Deeper in Australia

More about the Australian classical music summit, where I gave a keynote speech, and which I started to describe (the summit, not my speech) here.

The hard work of the summit was done in five working groups, on these subjects:

  • advancing the repertoire
  • advocacy and research
  • audience building [two working groups on this subject]
  • community and regional development
  • education: school and community
  • education: professional and studio ["studio" means private music teaching]
  • media

Go here for a summit document, with details on these groups. It’s another example of the thorough preparatory work that helped the summit succeed.

I sat in with one of the audience building groups. More on that in a moment. The other discussions — and the discussions at the summit generally — were of course variable. Time was spent on things that don’t seem (at least to me) as if they’d go anywhere, or that shouldn’t be a high priority.

Under the “media” heading, for instance, some people wanted to confront (I think that’s the word) newspapers about either the quality of their classical music criticism, or about why they don’t publish any. Good luck with that. How, for instance, will you counter a newspaper’s people (assuming that you even get to talk to them), when they tell you they don’t publish classical music criticism because they’ve had to cut staff and think local government reporting is more important, or because they’ve found their readers don’t read  the reviews, or because they themselves — the editors and writers at the newspaper — don’t care?

“Oh,” you might say, “classical music is important!” As I said, good luck with that.

And — under the banner of advocacy — some people wanted to recruit prominent political figures to talk about classical music. Seems like a lot of work for a very small gain. People all over Australia are going to start going to classical concerts because a prominent Labour politician says they ought to? The tide, it seems to me, is flowing the other way. People are growing less and less interested. Having the remaining interested people speak up may lessen the decline, at least temporarily, but can’t reverse it.

But the discussions at the working group I attended were wonderful, I thought. Here people really grappled with the problems. Why don’t people come to classical concerts? Because the concerts don’t seem welcoming. Because they’re held at inconvenient times, in inconvenient places.

The people in the working group — mostly younger, mostly connected in some way to Australian orchestras — really tried to grapple with this. How could concerts be more welcoming? How could they be held in community locations? How can the people giving the concerts learn more about their communities, so they’re not simply dumping concerts on the local population from on high, but instead are really communicating with the people they want to reach?

These discussions aren’t new. We’ve certainly had them in the US, and, I know, in Canada and Europe. I’m sure they’ve happened in Australia before. But this made their eruption at the Sydney summit all the more telling, I thought. As I told the people in the group, it’s a sign of real change that they spontaneously raised the same questions — and found some of the same answers — that people are looking into elsewhere. This shows a dawning consciousness of common problems, and likely solutions, a consciousness that’s dawning more or less everywhere.

That’s a good thing. What happens to the eager ideas floated in the working group will be another story. Certainly they can be echoed by the longer-term working groups that will be formed in the summit’s wake. This in turn may stimulate many people who weren’t at the summit to take action on their own.

But I hope the people in the working group I sat in with won’t wait for anyone to lead them, create a structure for them, or give them formal permission to set their ideas in motion. Most things that were discussed can be acted on right now. And I hope they will be!

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